Simon Duke

5 Jan 2017, 10:48

The Living Wage (revisited)

A few years ago, I wrote that whilst paying the Living Wage was morally the right thing to do, it didn’t necessarily guarantee or even improve one’s chances of receiving a quality cleaning service, typically characterised by low employee turnover, high productivity and consistently high cleaning standards.

While I stand by much of what I said in my original post, I believe that a couple things have changed that necessitate consideration:

  1. Many more clients now choose to pay the Living Wage. In fact, today more than 30% of the hours we pay to our London cleaners are paid at or above the London Living Wage (up from 6% just over two years ago). This means that those employed at a lower rate are more likely to find alternative, better paying jobs. The knock-on effect is that contracts priced beneath the Living Wage experience far more turnover and difficulty recruiting than they did three years ago. This clearly impacts performance.
  2. Perhaps as a push back against the cries of more for less that echoed around our industry during the financial crisis, there is an increased solidarity among employees, who are now resolved to stand up and fight for a fair deal. Where the Living Wage was previously seen as something afforded to the lucky few, it is now viewed as a right that all employees should be able to access. Consequently, those that do not yet benefit from a 'fair wage' are more likely to experience feelings of resentment and demotivation.

While the above two points deal with cleaning performance and client benefit, I have also come to believe that, as employers, we have a duty to provide our people with good jobs. A liveable wage is certainly part of this; however, it only begins to scratch the surface. 

The Good Work Code sets out a foundation of eight values that constitute good work. We’ve been working on implementing these within our business over the past six months. We’ve learned that it’s not easy, that there are commercial and logistical challenges and that it will take time and creative thinking; however, we’re also committed to being a force for change in our industry and very much look forward to the day when the majority of those employed in our sector feel valued and positive about their work and impact.

Over the next couple months I will address some of the non-financial aspects of what characterises good work. However, I do believe that we should all be advocating the Living Wage as the new norm. Many of those working in the cleaning industry have to work more than 12 hours per day to make ends meet. I should also be clear and say, however, that many choose to continue to work these long hours, even when paid the Living Wage, as this allows them to put something aside, create an amount of disposable income, or send money home to parents or family.

Critically, the difference between those toiling to pay their bills and those creating some surplus is that the latter feel empowered, while those grinding it out on a low wage may, understandably, begin to feel disillusioned and demotivated. Over time, as employers, we risk losing them or, in some cases, the true value of what they have to offer.

  • Office cleaning
  • Good jobs strategy